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Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush has won his defamation case brought against the News Corp.-owned Daily Telegraph. The paper had accused Rush of inappropriate sexual behavior during a stage production of “King Lear.”
The judge in Sydney, Michael Wigney said on Thursday that the newspaper “did not make out their truth defence” against Rush’s libel suit. Wigney called the newspaper report “a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism.”
Details of the case were heard by the court in October and November last year. Passing judgement, Wigney awarded Rush A$850,000 ($600,000) in aggravated damages. Rush is expected to receive further payments for loss of earnings, from a further hearing in May.
After exiting the court thanked the court. But he added “there are no winners in this case, it’s been extremely distressing for everyone involved.” At the beginning of the trial last year, Rush said the period between allegations and trial had been “the worst 11 months of my life.”
The newspaper published its allegations under the headline “King Leer” and again in a second story under the headline “Star’s Bard Behaviour”. But in its defence the paper denied that its stories implied that Rush was a sexual predator and a pervert, and said that they had been crafted to include Rush’s denials. The stories leaned on the complaints of actress Erin Norvill, though did not name her at the time.
Delivering his verdict, Wigney said: “I was not ultimately persuaded that Ms Norvill was an entirely credible witness.” He called her a witness “prone to exaggeration and embellishment.” Wigney said that her testimony was not supported by the evidence theater director Neil Armfield, and cast members Robyn Nevin or Helen Buday. Speaking outside after the verdict, Norvill said she stood by her testimony.
The judge said that he was considering the special damages based on the consideration that Rush would likely not receive any substantial offers of work for 12 months after the “vindication of his reputation. Rush might then be paid 50% of his usual rate for the first 12-18 months after that, and 75% for the following 18-24 months.